The Bottling Company softball team began its season this past Sunday with a very heavy heart, as they were playing without their star pitcher, Harold Gellis z’l, the team captain for more than 30 years. Gellis had been discussing plans for the upcoming season, but he died suddenly in late February. Many members of the team shared memories of playing ball with Gellis, and watching him strike out hitters, even after he passed his 70th birthday.
Rob Ernst: “When I read the email, I cried. I cried because we lost a tremendous teammate, a wonderful friend and mentor and a committed and proud Jew. For 10 years Harold provided all of us with chizuk and encouragement, both on and off the field; he was someone we looked up to. To see how someone who was in his 70s came to the field every week with such passion was inspirational. I remember joining the Bottling Company back in 2008 and how welcoming Harold was. His reach was well beyond the field. I can’t count how many times I received calls from Harold after a game when I did something to help win with a “Yasher Koach.” Those calls meant a lot because they came from him. Harold not only defended us on the field but I saw first hand that he helped many in shul as well. He was a staple at shul and he always put on a big smile as we got closer to opening day, telling me that he was getting ready and asking how the team looked. Over these 10 years Harold “cooled off” on the field and became more of an ambassador for playing the game the right way. Who doesn’t remember him calling us all together after an inning full of errors and giving us a pep talk to focus and get it together. “Singles and doubles,” he would always say, and he led by example, shooting that ball to the right side and batting close to.500 every season.”
Jeremy Tuch: “A couple of years ago during a game, a foul ball found its way through the rear windshield of my car. I was unable to drive it to work until it was fixed. Harold called me up later that day and offered me his car until the window was replaced, and offered to help pay for the repairs. I didn’t take his money, but the fact that he was there to help as soon as he could shows what an amazing guy he was.”
Chaim Sussman: “I remember a game several years ago where I was playing second base and on a force play, their player made a hard takeout slide of me. It was a clean play, but Harold immediately was worried that they injured me and went over to the other team angry for that slide. Afterwards I told him that while I felt the slide was clean, it made me feel really good to know he would stand up for me. Another game, I banged my head against a player’s knee and had to go to the ER. He was there visiting me immediately after the game. Last year, during his final game, he took a comebacker which fractured his hand. It was the last inning of a close game, and he really wanted to continue pitching. And he would have continued with a broken pitching hand, had his son not talked him out of it!”
Moshe Schaffer: “Harold and I have known each other for years. This past season, our relationship grew as a battery unit. Working together to get outs and make life difficult for hitters brought us together even more than ever. Quickly, I felt a closeness to him that had a huge impact on me. He quickly became like a grandfather to me, I even started calling him grandpa on and off the field. He treated me like I was his own grandson. He was kind and caring and everyone can see that. From going back to the field at which I left my water bottle to buying fresh cold water for the whole team, and never using demeaning language even when we were playing terrible defense and not hitting anything, everyone knew he was a class act.”
Akiva Pudell: “He was a great man, he always went out of this way to ask how you were doing. I had him with me through my whole IDF service, as he helped donate a brand-new bulletproof vest to me. His generosity kept me safe.”
George Friedman: “This goes back to our first Bottling Company championship in 1993. I was in my prime in those days (still in my 30s) and batted third. I had a terrible virus the two days before the championship game. However, I snuck out of the house Sunday morning for the game. I was barely able to stand. I was dizzy with fever and was a wreck. With the bases loaded, I swung and missed the first two pitches. Harold called time out and asked, “What the heck is wrong with you?” My fever-wracked brain replied, “I’m seeing triple.” To which Harold replied, “Well, hit the ball in the middle!” I did, resulting in a bases-clearing triple. Leadership like that, you don’t find. I miss you every day, Captain.”
Harold Gellis was loved and will be missed by all.